‘Workplace accidents, illnesses should not happen’
Province sees ‘encouraging improvements’ in number of deaths, injuries
Those attending Day of Mourning ceremonies in Carbonear on April 28 sent a clear and strong message — workplace accidents and illnesses should not happen.
Among them was Debbie McCarthy, president of the Baccalieu Trail District Labour Council.
Speaking before a gathering of special guests, including those directly impacted by deaths and injuries in the workplace, McCarthy stressed that negligent employers should be held to account for any situation that places workers in an unsafe circumstance.
“Canada’s Criminal Code now includes provisions that allow the criminal prosecution of those whose negligence caused workplace deaths. When a worker is killed or injured on the job, that workplace must be treated as a potential crime scene,” McCarthy stated.
“How else can we prosecute negligent employers if evidence in that workplace is not collected to be able prosecute those responsible for the accident?”
Calling for action
Day of Mourning ceremonies are held each spring across Canada as a way of bringing national attention to problems in the workplace, and to call upon governments and employers take action to put an end to deaths and injuries in the workplace.
McCarthy said it’s part of an effort to ensure that lives were not lost in vain. She said everyone should be “furious” that in 2012 six workers lost their lives in the province in workplace incidents, and 20 others succumbed to occupational disease.
“Too many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends and co-workers are still not coming home to their families and friends,” she said.
She said strong provisions in laws or collective agreements or workplace policies are only as effective as the commitment of those who are tasked to enforce or comply with them.
“The Criminal Code must be used to send a strong signal to negligent employers who wilfully place their workers in danger,” she added.
“A safe and healthy workplace is not a sweet deal. It’s a right for every worker.”
It was a message echoed by Greg Pretty, a director of the industrial/retail/offshore sector with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW).
He said the fight for worker health and safety must never cease.
“Once we stop fighting, we will quickly go back to where we came from,” he said.
Pretty referenced the workplace catastrophe in Bangladesh, where hundreds of factory garment workers died after the nine storey building they were working in collapsed.
“The clothes they made was sold around the world and the world should know about these workers and the survivors and and we should also fight to ensure these workers see change in their workplaces,” he said.
Pretty said workers’ rights are under attack in this province and elsewhere, including the right to a safe workplace and a compensation system that takes care of injured workers.
Meanwhile, the provincial government is pointing to what it calls “encouraging improvements” in workplace safety.
Service NL Minister Nick McGrath, in a statement last month to the House of Assembly, said the number of workplace injuries resulting in lost-time compensation claims has declined to the lowest level ever recorded in our province. Additionally, the total number of lost-time workplace injuries in 2012 was 3,742, the lowest number reported in 50 years.
He also pointed to the completion of the registry of information about former employees and contractual workers of the Baie Verte asbestos mine that the impact of occupational disease on the lives of workers is being recognized.
“By working together, employees, employers and government can build an even stronger safety culture that will reduce workplace injuries and deaths,” said the minister.
Last year, he added, 1,081 potential workplace injuries and deaths were prevented through Occupational Health and Safety enforcement intervention. Furthermore, over 15,300 unsafe work practices were rectified and corrected.
Those attending Day of Mourning ceremonies in Carbonear gather for a chat.
Some of the wreaths laid during Day of Mourning ceremonies in Carbonear.
Adrian Pye is shown holding the wreath he presented during Day of Mourning ceremonies in Carbonear on April 28. Adrian laid the wreath in memory of Paul Pike, one of 17 people who died March 12, 2009 when Cougar helicopter Flight 491 crashed in the ocean about 55 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland.